Hell High (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jan 24, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Hell High (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Douglas Grossman

Release Date(s)

1989 (July 19, 2022)

Studio(s)

DGS Productions (Arrow Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: C+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A-

Hell High (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!

Review

The slasher era boom was pretty much at its end by the time 1989 rolled around. Films were still being made, but they were rapidly declining at the box office. One such film was Hell High (aka Raging Fury and Real Trouble), a one-and-done horror film by writer/producer/director Douglas Grossman, whose only other credit is co-writing the 1984 comedy Up the Creek. Filmed three years prior to its official theatrical release, it’s one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it horror films where most of the cast didn’t go on to do very much afterwards, outside of Christopher Cousins who managed to have a soap opera career, and continues to work in film and television today.

As for the quality of Hell High, it’s mostly a mixed bag outside of the slasher elements. It’s in the same wheelhouse as Massacre and Central High, Class of 1984, and Death Wish as far as story and thematics are concerned, wherein many of the characters are utterly awful people and have no redeeming value, making them prime candidates to wind up on the receiving end of a killer’s knife. In this case, we see them do horrible things to one of their teachers, including breaking into her house and nearly assaulting her sexually. But because something traumatic happened to her as a child, she loses her mind and goes after them one by one.

Hell High also attempts to work in an element of a student who’s on the wrong side of the tracks and gets caught up in all of this, but it never really pays off with any satisfaction. It’s certainly a more interesting element in the mix, and the film attempts to be something more than just a slasher since the carnage doesn’t really begin until the final thirty minutes or so, but it’s a little sloppy and a little sleazy. However, it’s not boring, just uncomfortable at times. Many will highlight it today as a forgotten and overlooked gem, worthy of being celebrated the way that many disregarded genre films of the past are these days, but Hell High is certainly worth a look.

Hell High was shot by cinematographer Steven Fierberg on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras and Zeiss Super Speed lenses (according to his interview), finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (although IMDB lists it as 1.66:1). Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray for the first time with a new 2K restoration of the original camera negative under the title Real Trouble, with materials for the restoration provided by Douglas Grossman. It’s a mostly satisfying presentation that’s organic and film-like. There are grain variances throughout, likely due to the use of different film stocks, but there are no issues with color and contrast. Saturation in general, thanks to the costumes and use of colored gels, certainly heightens the film’s visuals, more so than many other similar horror films of the era. Blacks aren’t entirely deep, but the image is stable throughout with only minor speckling leftover.

Audio is included in English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. As this film was released with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, it’s quite spacious and gives the sound effects and score plenty of room to move around in. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise and the track is clean with no leftover issues to speak of.

Hell High on Blu-ray sits in a clear amaray case with double-sided artwork featuring new artwork by Ralf Krause on one side and the original theatrical poster on the reverse. Also included is a 24-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essay Stuntman to the Slashers: An Interview with Stunt Coordinator/Actor Webster Whinery by Michael Gingold, and restoration information. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. A Limited Edition version was also made available directly through Arrow Video featuring alternate Raging Fury artwork. The following extras are included on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary with Douglas Grossman and Steven Fierberg
  • Audio Commentary with Douglas Grossman
  • Audio Commentary with Joe Bob Briggs
  • Introduction by Joe Bob Briggs (HD – 5:06)
  • School’s Out!: An Interview with Douglas Grossman (HD – 42:55)
  • A Beautiful Nightmare: An Interview with Steven Fierberg (HD – 28:56)
  • Jon-Jon’s Journey with Christopher Cousins (HD – 18:49)
  • The More the Better: An Interview with Maureen Mooney (HD – 20:06)
  • Music Is Not Sound (HD – 26:48)
  • Back to Schools: The Locations of Hell High (HD – 13:07)
  • Archival Interviews: Douglas Grossman (HD – 19:30)
  • Archival Interviews: Leo Evans (HD – 11:41)
  • Deleted Scene (HD – 2:10)
  • Hell High Alternate Opening Titles (Upscaled SD – 2:05)
  • Raging Fury Trailer (HD – 1:36)
  • Hell High Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:37)
  • Hell High TV Spot #1 (Upscaled SD – :30)
  • Hell High TV Spot #2 (Upscaled SD – :31)

The first audio commentary features Douglas Grossman and Steven Fierberg who have a nice rapport with each other. They fall into the trap of watching the film and patting themselves on the back, but do manage to provide a retrospective look at the film, highlighting the cinematography, music, and dialogue quite often. The second audio commentary with Douglas Grossman was recorded for the 2004 Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD release. He tends to go quiet and watch the film, commenting upon things as they happen, but there are interesting details be squeezed out of it, even if some of it’s repeated in the other track and interviews. The third audio commentary with critic and horror host Joe Bob Briggs, as well as his introduction to the film, are taken from the Joe Bob’s Private Screening Room series, which was also included on the previous DVD release. As you might expect, it’s engrossing and very entertaining.

School’s Out features an interview with Douglas Grossman who discusses his upbringing and his exposure to film at a young age before getting into the making of Hell High and why he stopped making films. A Beautiful Nightmare features an interview with cinematographer Steven Fierberg who talks about getting into the business and becoming a director of photography before delving into the work done on the film. Jon-Jon’s Journey features an interview with Christopher Cousins who recalls his experiences making the film and his feelings about it today. The More the Better features an interview with Maureen Mooney who talks about becoming an actress and working on the film, mentioning that she became pregnant during a break from shooting (which is blatantly obvious during one scene). Music Is Not Sound features an interview with composers Rich Macar and Christopher Hyams-Hart, which is mostly a back and forth between the two discussion with each other on how they became film composers and their work for the film. Back to Schools features a filming locations tour by author and filmmaker Michael Gingold. The Archival Interviews with Douglas Grossman and co-writer Leo Evans are carried over from the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD release. The Deleted Scene was found on the original camera negative, but has no sound to accompany it. The Alternate Opening Titles feature the original theatrical title Hell High. Last are a series of trailers and TV spots.

Hell High was originally conceived to be something of a satire of the horror genre, according to those who worked on it, but whether that was successful or not will depend upon the individual viewer. Regardless, the Blu-ray presentation and extras are both top notch.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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